William Way receives $1 million for renovations

The William Way LGBT Community Center will undergo $1 million worth of renovations thanks to a grant from Governor Tom Wolf.

The funds, from the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program subsidized by the state’s Office of the Budget, will go toward updating the organization’s public spaces, namely the lobby, ballroom, art gallery and historical archives, as well as offices. Updated technology, like modernized lighting and hanging systems, will be added to enhance the presentation of the organization’s artistic and cultural items.  

The grant will fund the first part of William Way’s two-phase redevelopment plan, with a focus on the front third of the 1315 Spruce Street location. Phase one renovations will begin within 18 months, and the center aims to remain open throughout the duration. 

The second phase of renovations will add 9,800 square feet of usable space to the community center, including a 51 percent increase in rentable space, and a two-story event area. William Way is beginning a “capital campaign to raise additional funds” for the latter half of the project, said the organization’s executive director Chris Bartlett. 

“The renovations have emerged out of a sense that we have, in my opinion, the most welcoming and inclusive LGBT city in the country, and we really have a center that reflects that role,” Bartlett added. “When we applied for the state funds, we made the case that this is a really unique project in that it not only serves the city, but the region and really Pennsylvanians from around the state as a beacon of hope, a welcoming space.”

The remodelings will also preserve the history of the center’s building, Bartlett told PGN. The location housed the Engineer’s Club of Philadelphia, one of the oldest professional clubs in the United States, throughout much of the 20th century. The site became William Way’s home in 1997, and has since undergone primarily maintenance-oriented renovations, like replacing roofs, Bartlett added. 

“My office believes so much in the William Way as a crucial and lifesaving resource for LGBT Philadelphians and their families and allies,” said State Senator Larry Farnese, whose purview of Philly’s first Senatorial District includes the organization. “The center’s renovations will make a huge difference in the lives of so many Philadelphians and Pennsylvanians who each year turn to it for the resources that can improve their lives.”

State Representative Brian Sims, who serves William Way’s district, said he supports the initiative because he has experienced firsthand the difference William Way makes in people’s lives. 

“I’ve hosted job fairs and other community meetings at the center because I know that everyone feels welcome and included there,” he added. “These much-needed renovations will make the center even more welcoming.”

Barlett said he attributes much of the center’s success in securing the funding to project support from both Farnese and Sims, as well as Mayor Jim Kenney. William Way applied for the RACP grant last year but was turned down. The planning process for renovations began four years ago, Barlett added. 

The improvement ideas emerged from a collaboration with Community Design Collaborative, a local nonprofit that provides pro bono design services to other nonprofits in the Greater Philadelphia area. William Way board members, staff, volunteers and members of the city’s LGBTQ community who use the center’s resources participated in a six-month process of choosing the proposed changes. 

Participants vocalized their visions in community-oriented town hall meetings before the Collaborative presented William Way with a report mapping out potential designs and renovation possibilities, Bartlett said. The center’s representatives stressed the importance of this feedback in solidifying the plans. 

“The center is for the community, and we appreciate that so many from the community have advocated for its growth and renovation,” said Sue Gildea, co-chair of William Way’s board. 

Barlett said he’s most looking forward to seeing the renovations in William Way’s lobby, which he described as “one of the most welcoming spaces in the city.”

“There aren’t many places you can come get off your feet, use the wireless, drink some filtered water and just relax with your friends,” he added. “I love that the center provides that welcoming, open space, the beautiful art gallery and archives gallery, and we want to renovate the space so that it’s even more welcoming, more accessible.”